If you are the parent of a newly minted college graduate, believe me when I say this: I know exactly how you must be feeling right now.
I know, for example, how on the one hand it feels like just yesterday that you were trying to help your child squeeze two semesters’ worth of comforts and belongings into half of a 120-square-foot dorm room while fighting back sobs.
I know how, on the other, it feels like it’s been a couple of lifetimes since your kid suddenly was back living at home and driving you crazy while we all were waiting out a global pandemic.
I know — if your parents are still living and were able to get to the commencement ceremony — what it felt like when it dawned on you how mind-blowing it must be for them to be at their kid’s kid’s college graduation; what it felt like when it occurred to you that it’ll probably be just a few more blinks of an eye before you’re at the same point in your life that they are now; what it felt like when the thought crossed your mind that there’s a chance (small for some of you but big for others) this might have been the last major event of your child’s life that one or both of your parents will be able to attend.
And I know that if you wept once on the day of your son or daughter’s graduation, you wept twice, maybe even three or four times. Or, if you didn’t cry, I know it’s because you were trying really, really hard not to.
More than anything, however, I know you are filled with an overpowering mixture of both worry and hope.
Worry and hope
I know all of this because our daughter — our sweet, beautiful, intelligent, not-so-little-anymore baby girl, who turned 22 in March and, therefore, is on the verge of knowing what it feels like to be out of touch with teenagers (if she doesn’t already) — graduated from college this past Saturday.
Because, whereas after high school graduation our kids’ next four years were at least broadly visualize-able because we knew they were committed to spending them in college, now there are more forks for them to take than they’d find at a Golden Corral.
Of course, hope and worry, as they pertain to our children, are pretty much the same things.
For instance, I worry about the fact that our daughter graduated with a degree in a field she’s not positive is the right fit for her. But I hope that, in any event, some of the lessons she learned in those classes will be applicable in whatever career she does wind up in.
I worry that if she goes to grad school, which she’s been strongly considering, she’ll be right back in this same place two years from now and many thousands of dollars poorer. But I hope that, if she does, she lands on a master’s degree that opens the door to something that resembles a dream job.
I worry because I don’t feel like the part-time, benefits-less office job she’s currently doing will provide her with enough income to support herself financially once we stop paying her rent at the end of July, but I hope something better comes along — and that she seizes on it.
I worry that after we take her off the payroll she’ll run up a bunch of credit card debt at a time when running up a bunch of credit card debt is about as wise as putting every penny you own into cryptocurrency, but I hope she’s smarter about money — if you’ll pardon the pun — than we’ve given her credit for.
I worry about her living with friends who are still in college and still living the college lifestyle, with too many afternoons spent by the pool or at the beach and too many nights spent crammed into bars drinking slushees made from Red Bull and alcohol. But I hope her life always includes friends who enjoy being with her and activities that take her mind off of life’s stresses.
I worry about she’ll wind up with a life partner who will drag her down. I hope she finds someone who lifts her up.
I worry about us drifting apart as time wears on. I hope we never do.
Coming full circle
But, probably because I spent the whole week leading up to her graduation around my parents, I’ve also been thinking about the worries and the hopes that they must have had when I graduated from college. That they must have had when I got my first job. When I first got engaged. When that engagement failed. When I got my second job. Got engaged again. Got married. Moved across the country. Became a dad. Moved across the country again. And so on.
I’ve made so many mistakes. I’ve behaved like an idiot, been a bad friend, been a bad husband, screwed up at work, disappointed others. And that’s just since turning 40.
At the same time, I’d like to think that I’ve also made the world at least a slightly better place for those around me. Written a few stories that have made a positive difference in strangers’ lives. Created and cultivated a couple of social circles that never existed before. Organized family trips that would have been beyond my wildest dreams as a child. Made my wife and daughter and my closest family and friends a priority when they deserved to be made a priority, and given them words of encouragement when they’ve needed words of encouragement.
Even more critically than anything I’ve done, though, is this: The people I love have also loved me, steadfastly. Supported me. Stood by me. Believed in me. In spite of my flaws.
As for our daughter? Look, I fully recognize that as she moves on through life, she will be a flawed human being. Just like I was, and am. I’ll hope ... yet she’ll still manage to make mistakes. I’ll worry ... yet she’ll still find a way to be successful and to bring joy and happiness to others.
But through it all, her mom and dad will continue to love her, to support her, to stand by her, to believe in her.
And if she’s fortunate enough someday — perhaps just a few blinks of an eye from now — to be celebrating the fresh minting of her own college graduate, I’ll pull her aside and tell her to believe me when I say this:
I know exactly, honey, how you must be feeling right now.